By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
Parents of Denver Public Schools students received a wake-up call last week, when local 9News reporter Nelson Garcia shed light on new criteria in the district’s teacher evaluation framework.
DPS high school history teacher John Peterson stood up to complain when he learned his district plans to give “distinguished” ratings to classroom instructors who encourage students to “challenge and question the dominant culture” and “work for social justice.” It gets even more outrageous when you consider that the evaluation criteria apply to all teachers K-12.
As my Independence Institute colleague Pam Benigno put it: “Does this mean that a teacher should take fourth-graders out on a field trip to Occupy Denver?”
It’s not strictly a left-right issue. A creative teacher on the opposite side of the political spectrum could inspire social activism by assigning students to attend a tea party rally or organizing a pro-gold standard protest outside the Denver branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.
Somehow, though, I doubt that’s what DPS bureaucrats had in mind. But who knows? When making changes from last year’s pilot evaluation framework, no explanation was given for the addition of the controversial language.
On the same day the story broke about Denver teacher evaluations, the leader of the state’s largest teachers union called on her members to join a protest of the Douglas County School Board’s collective-bargaining reforms.
Might not the “social justice” language in the district’s evaluation framework tempt an activist DPS teacher to go beyond the call of Colorado Education Association president Kerrie Dallman? Might that teacher also find a way to reward students for getting involved in union politics in another school district?
Interestingly, Dallman — before assuming the position of CEA president — served on the State Council for Educator Effectiveness, which drafted the rules to implement Colorado’s nationally lauded 2010 evaluation reform law.
Nowhere in the legislative debates surrounding the adoption of bipartisan Senate Bill 191 was there a whiff of discussion about rewarding teachers for encouraging social activism.
The closest the Colorado Department of Education‘s own model evaluation rubric comes is rating teachers exemplary when their students “actively seek a variety of perspectives to complete group assignments.” That doesn’t exactly open the door to a sit-in protest or hanging out with the 99 percent.
In this case, DPS leaders simply have gone over the line. Here’s hoping that they are willing to walk it back.